It’s very, very rare that I feel an urgent need to do some gardening… over my lifetime I could probably count such occasions on the fingers of one hand.
So why, last Friday morning pre-dawn, was I on my knees on a piece of cardboard in the Vicarage garden scraping away at the cold earth with a ‘pokey thing’ (I couldn’t find a trowel, apparently we don’t possess one)? This was not perhaps the most sensible way to spend the first hour of the day mum moved house, given that my arms have been very stiff ever since.
The answer is that we are about to leave a house with a garden that has blessed us year after year with a riot of spring colour. Bulbs we never planted have come up faithfully every March and April and reminded us of the promise of Spring and Summer. And I could not bear the thought of next Spring in a cold bare garden.
But why the urgency to do it just then? Well, up until a few days before the vicarage garden had been an overgrown jungle not fit for planting anything and even I, with my limited gardening knowledge realise that November the 29th is very, very late for planting bulbs.
So when I woke up at 5am or thereabouts I just had to give in to the urge to garden.
But as I knelt there digging and scraping, I realised there was more to this urge than planting bulbs. I was thinking about Peter John Church and my new role there. Growing stuff is often painful and difficult. First you have to clear the ground – and that may mean letting go, even of the good things that have been there before in order to make space for other good things. (I confess, the ‘legendary’ raspberry canes are no more but there is a new, much bigger patio for holding summer BBQs).
Then you have to plant – this is hard work, it’s costly and time consuming and you have to commit yourself to the process. You commit your precious seed to the soil, and cover it over with cold dark earth and to be honest it all looks pretty hopeless and bleak. What have you to show for your efforts?
And so you have to have patience and wait and wait…. and wait some more.
But when the reward comes, when the bulb flowers, oh wow, what a joy.
Of course God wasn’t really speaking to me about gardening, in the same way that Jesus wasn’t really giving farming advice in the parable of the Sower and the Seed.
I was thinking about how to bring about growth in the Kingdom of God. And the answer is I don’t make things grow: God does. All I’m called to do is to create the right conditions: to clear the ground, to sow the seed, to wait and pray and wait and pray…
‘Do not grow weary in well-doing: for in due time we will reap a harvest’ was the promise given to me on the day of my baptism, Galatians 6:9
After I told this anecdote at Peter Johns on Sunday morning (Thank you Lord, at least my early morning spent kneeling in the garden yielded a sermon illustration) I was thinking about the fruitful messy church ministry I handed over a couple of months ago. I often found it amazing that I so enjoyed leading a messy church when I have zero craft skills and zero catering skills. Left to my own devices I’d like to think I’m good at preaching on complex theology but oh no, God calls me to make profound stuff simple and share it with a large group of noisy people who don’t appear to be listening! But they were listening and they were growing and my ineptitude on the practical side ensured I never tried to run the thing alone and that I deeply appreciated the differently gifted people who worked alongside me.
So maybe here at Peter John’s there is a new call to be completely out of my depth, doing something new and unfamiliar and strongly relying on God’s gifting of others to work alongside me and to trust yet again that God will make it happen. Me? A gardener? Oh boy, is this ever going to be a challenge!